During the third year of my undergraduate degree I, like many others seeking a new adventure, decided to partake in an international exchange program to Istanbul, Turkey.
I knew it would be the experience of a lifetime; after all, that’s what everyone had said. But actually conveying how life changing it was is a whole different story. I had experiences and met people that have forever changed my life, who I am, and how I see myself. Yes, I was looking for adventure, but in the process I came to also better understand myself, my family, and what I want for my future.
There is no one word, one sentence, or one song lyric—nothing that can even come close to summarizing how incredible and absolutely unbelievable the entire experience was for me.
The time abroad opened my young eyes to a fascinating world of intelligent, motivated, and cultured young people that I have, so fortunately, now too become a part of. Specifically, there were 15 people from all over the world who quickly became like family to me. Many of them were well-traveled, well-networked, and hard-working Master’s students and as such, it was a wake-up call to the world of international studies, internships, and work. We did everything together: ate, partied, traveled, slept, and studied; and when I left Istanbul in June 2011, I had no idea how I was supposed to continue my university life without them in it. So for a year and a half we talked regularly (some more than others) and I made the effort to see the few who lived in North America, but as the months passed, the girl I was in Turkey started to get diluted by my routine studying, working, and having a social life.
So, last month, I decided I needed another wake-up call and booked a ticket to Barcelona for a reunion. I won’t bore you with a lengthy story about this amazing city, but I’ll say that it ended up being just the revitalizing experience I was looking for.
I am currently, like many of you, working full-time in an area I love while awaiting word on my future studies. My life is in limbo and sometimes that makes it easy to lose track of oneself and all the good things you have. But if I can continue to take one thing away from the exchange experience it is that pushing your limits and testing yourself in new and exciting environments—academically, socially, and professionally—is the only way you can continue to grow.
There is no way that you will ever find yourself in a textbook, and reading about people’s adventures in blogs, articles, and novels will not be able to motivate and energize you like first-hand experiences can. It could be argued that Istanbul gave me an everlasting dosage of caffeine; I just needed a little espresso shot in Barcelona to keep it going.
Yes, many people have invaluable experiences while traveling, studying, or living abroad. But not everyone can bring these experiences back to their daily lives and apply them to where it matters most. I witnessed first-hand the creation of an even stronger, independent, and adventurous girl in Turkey two years ago—a girl I have strived to be every day since.
How has traveling revitalized you? Tell us in the comments!